Undisclosed US administration authorities have verified to a report that the US Navy drills in the Black Sea have been canceled due to the dangerous situation brought upon by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The exercise was previously referred to as “essential” in discouraging Russian aggression in Europe as it asserts “backing” of the US and NATO to Ukraine.

The major military exercises that were supposed to take place this summer in the Black Sea in Europe have been “canceled due to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine,” the official announced to the news agency last Monday.

Based on the information, in 2021, Sea Breeze had the participation of 32 vessels from NATO and its allies. During that year, the primary objectives of the drills were to train Ukrainian military personnel, as well as the headquarters and individual units of the Ukrainian Navy, for participation in joint operations with the armed forces of NATO member nations. In addition, increasing the level of interoperability was another one of the goals, along with gathering expertise in operational planning and conducting combat operations following NATO standards and procedures, among others.

Also, it noted that NATO has decided to undertake a more “slimmed down alternative” drill for Breeze 2022 off the coast of Bulgaria, specifically in the vicinity of the Bulgarian cities of Varna and Burgas, which are located near the Black Sea.

The Ukrainian navy ship LST Konstantn Olsnanskly (U 042) is anchored in the Black Sea during a Sea Breeze 2010 anti-piracy exercise. (Source: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kristopher Regan, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Sea Breeze 2022

To the Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation on Defense and Military Relations signed in 1993 between the US Department of Defense and the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, the multinational military exercise known as “Sea Breeze” has been taking place on Ukrainian soil since 1997. Sea Breeze is composed of participants from several different countries. The training includes elements that focus on the air, the ground, and the water.

The Sea Breeze 2022 is the first exercise led by NATO since Russia’s special military operation began. The training will involve 24 vessels, five planes, and two helicopters from ten countries.

The 6th Fleet announced last week that participants would include Navy P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft from Task Force 67 in Sicily, Italy, and personnel from Task Force 68 in Spain.

On the other hand, there will be no warships from the US participating in the exercise. But its personnel and aircraft will still participate per the report. In addition, approximately 1,390 personnel from different NATO countries like Albania, Belgium, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey will cooperate on the Sea Breeze.

210628-M-JQ356-1013 OLESHKY SANDS, Ukraine (June 28, 2021) Lt. Gen. Yuri Sodol of Ukrainian Marine Corps, right, salutes Rear Adm. Oleksiy Neizhpapa, Commander of the Ukrainian Navy, left, during the opening ceremony of the land portion of exercise Sea Breeze, June 28, 2021, in Oleshky Sands, Ukraine. Exercise Sea Breeze is a multinational maritime exercise cohosted by U.S. Sixth Fleet and the Ukrainian Navy in the Black Sea since 1997. Sea Breeze 2021 is designed to enhance the interoperability of participating nations and strengthen maritime security and peace within the region. (Source: Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Measures

Due to the possibility of free-floating anti-ship mines in the surrounding sea region, every precaution was necessary to protect the participants’ safety while training in the designated locations. Therefore, the summer Sea Breeze Exercise has recently become a traditional naval maneuver in the Black Sea. The Navy of Ukraine has also participated in this exercise.

Annual Drill Tensions?

Last year, the US Navy defended the existing multinational Sea Breeze maneuvers that are taking place in the Black Sea in the face of protests by Russian officials against what they consider a “military provocation.” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov threatened the participants that “they would be better off leaving their provocations aside next time and staying away from that area because they will get clocked in the nose.” But Commander Daniel Marzluff, the US Sixth Fleet’s Black Sea Region Engagement Lead, reiterated that the drills are vital.

The United States maintains that the Black Sea is international waters and that all vessels enjoy the right of innocent passage in these waters to include military drills and operations.  The US and other NATO navies frequently enter the Black Sea over Russian protests and there have been numerous incidents where Russian navy ships and aircraft have attempted to interfere with these “Freedom of Navigation” cruises by NATO ships.

This year, the naval drills are also hampered by Turkey. When the war first began, Turkey issued a warning to the West and any other country that might send military vessels through the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits, stating that it would invoke the Montreux Convention of 1936, which gave it the power to restrict the entry of military ships through the straits in a war. While Turkey can prevent Russia and Ukrainian warships from transiting the Bosphorus, it does not prevent NATO ships from entering the Black Sea because they are not belligerents in the “war” in Ukraine. Nevertheless, there are hundreds of mines sewn in these waters now and it would be easy for Russia to lay more in the operational area of NATO vessels and claim they were ‘loose’ mines that broke their moorings to the seafloor and were adrift. 

Also, a weak agreement that will technically allow Ukraine to export its restricted grain exports was reached last week; but it is doubtful how quickly or even if it will “materialize” at all per the report. Finally, some members of NATO have entertained the idea of forming an international naval coalition to establish a ‘humanitarian’ shipping corridor on the Black Sea. However, this strategy has not been implemented because it could result in a confrontation with Russia.  

Had the exercises gone off as planned, it would have benefited Ukraine as it would have drawn Russian naval and air assets away from the war to observe them. Concerns about Russian overreaction resulting in NATO being drawn into the war are probably overblown for several reasons.

First, the Russian navy is not powerful in the Black Sea right now with the loss of its largest surface combatant, the Cruiser Moskva, an Alligator Class landing ship, and three Raptor patrol boats. It suffered these losses to Ukraine,  a country without a functioning navy. Turkey is preventing Russia from sending new ships to the Black Sea and if they tried to force the straits to enter the Black Sea it would be an attack on Turkey which is a NATO country. Turkey is able to protect these straits and any Russian warship that tried to force its way through would likely be attacked and sunk in the attempt.

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Second, while Russian propaganda likes to say that Russia is at war with NATO, it is being very careful about not doing anything that could bring it into direct confrontation with NATO and the US. It could certainly bomb Poland to prevent the flow of arms into the country but thus far, their missile strikes in Ukraine are staying well away from the Polish border with Ukraine,

Finally, the Russian military has its hands full just trying to hold off Ukraine, it really can’t afford to expand the conflict to include the US and NATO.  It probably isn’t capable of doing so either. Talk of Russia going nuclear with NATO and the US expresses an irrational fear that Putin and Russia are prepared to commit national suicide over a limited war to subdue Ukraine and they just aren’t.